Smithsonian Collections

Fred Cockerham's Five-String Fretless Banjo

Image 1 for Fred Cockerham's Five-String Fretless Banjo
  • thumbnail for Image 1 - Fred Cockerham's Five-String Fretless Banjo
  • thumbnail for Image 2 - Fred Cockerham's Five-String Fretless Banjo
Smithsonian Museum
National Museum of American History
This banjo was made by Kyle Creed in Galax, Virginia around 1960-1962. It has 16 brackets and a fingerboard covered with formica veneer. An innovative use of modern synthetic materials (Formica (TM) and Mylar (TM)) is seen in this otherwise traditional fretless banjo made for outstanding old time musician Fred Cockerham, by his friend Kyle Creed.

The Formica surface of the fingerboard provides a wear resistant, smooth surface that helps the finger slides of the old time clawhammer style. The Mylar head gives a bright clear tone even during damp weather, which slackens and dulls the tone of the humidity sensitive skin heads used on earlier banjos.

Fred Cockerham was extensively recorded by Smithsonian Curator Scott Odell in the 1960s. Those field tapes are now included along with photographs and oral histories in the National Museum of American History's Archives Center.
Currently not on view
Used By
Cockerham, Fred
Creed, Kyle
Date Made
Credit Line
Gift of The Fred Cockerham Family
Physical Description
formica (overall material)
mylar (overall material)
wood (part material)
metal (part material)
overall: 36 3/4 in x 12 in x 2 1/2 in; 93.345 cm x 30.48 cm x 6.35 cm
Object Type